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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Eric Mangini... off the hot seat, and out of the spotlight, for now...

The Cleveland Browns enter their week eight bye with many questions; fortunately, head coach Eric Mangini isn't one of them.  At least for now.  Despite entering the bye with a disappointing 2-5 record, Mangini seems to have saved his job again at least for the time being.  Unlike last season, where at 1-6 the Browns were only a game worse than they are now, this year's version of the Browns appear to be more competitive(the only game they were blown out is against Pittsburgh, if you could call it a blow out), losing four of their five games by a total of 22 points.  And it appears that Browns players seem to be getting Mangini's message regarding limiting mistakes, as evident in last Sunday's victory over the Saints, where they did not turnover the ball once, and in addition committed only four penalties.

But there are also more subtle ways one can tell that Eric Mangini is more relaxed than he was last season.  First and foremost, it is apparent on the sideline that he has a certain calm that was not apparent in season one.  Next is how he handles the media during the postgame press conferences.  Last year, it appeared that at times he was clearly annoyed the media kept asking him why his team was floundering when he preached things would get better.  This year he appears to be more adept at handling their questions, and rather reacting to the media's attitude, his answer's focus on what his team needs to do to get better each and every week.

The final sign that Eric Mangini has matured this season is his willingess to ask for help from others, most notably boss and mentor, team president Mike Holmgren.  Mangini's deference to Holmgren not only shows the humility need to be a successful coach in the NFL, but it also implies that he has bought into the concept that the Cleveland Browns team does not end with his assistant coaches and the players.  One area it seems Mangini has really learned from Holmgren is how to handle a quarterback controversy, because, even though during the idle week it seems another one is brewing, the head coach seems unfazed by this.  Hopefully coach Mangini will continue to seek assistance from his mentor throughout the season.

For most NFL teams, the bye week is a time of reflection, not only for what is going right, but also where they need to improve.  For the Cleveland Browns, their 2-5 record suggests that they have a lot of room to improve in a lot of different areas.  However, for the present time, it would appear that they would be prudent to stay the course at the head coaching position.  And while it is possible the Browns could regress after the bye, putting Mangini back on the hot seat, it should by no means be time for anyone to panic.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Things I learned about Ohio Sports teams and fans this year.

A few random observations regarding Ohio sports teams (and their fans) this year, having already attended an OSU football game,  a Cleveland Browns football game, and going to a couple of Columbus Clipper baseball games this past summer.....

.....That fans of the Clippers still want to watch their team, even when they are down 8-0.  Although this may have been due to the fact that Columbus was in the playoff hunt at the time, it still is kind of amazing that fans would stick around with their team down by such a big deficit.

...That going to a night game at the 'Shoe was one of the coolest experiences I have had at a sporting event, even if the game was only against Marshall.  I can only imagine the electricity at Ohio Stadium when Texas came to play the Buckeyes that Saturday night.  If only OSU could play all of its big games at home under the lights, maybe we would do better.  Hmmm, maybe that is why Wisconsin got the better of them, home lights.  Makes you wonder what would have happened had they played the game at 1pm EST.

...That Cleveland Browns fans, despite their current overall record and recent history against the Steelers, still think the Steelers suck.  Really.  They actually sell t-shirts outside the stadium in Pittsburgh black and yellow(memo to all Steelers' fans, your team's colors are  black and yellow, not black and gold.  Only a few football teams I know of have gold colors, and they are in college.  US Military Academy's colors are black and gold,  Notre Dame's colors are blue and gold,  and the United States Naval Academy's colors are blue and gold.  Your colors are black and yellow.  So down with black and yellow) with the words "Pittsburgh still sucks" on them.  I won't get into the Ben Roethlisberger t-shirts, needless to say they are pretty derogatory, and let's face it, outside the media and those fans of the Steelers, the rest of the country could really care less about the man.  Really.  Ask anyone who is not a Steelers fan what they thought about Ben after the Milledgeville, GA incident, Steelers fans, and let me know what you find out if you don't believe me.

....That even though 99% of the audience at an Ohio State game is rooting for the Buckeyes, there is always that 1% who is against the Buckeyes, and a lot of them are there just to cause trouble.  Just like at the Marshall game, a guy sitting in the seat directly behind me, who must have bought his tickets from a OSU alum(as I bought my tickets from my uncle, Jeff Brown,  a class of '72 grad who also happened to play football for Woody Hayes) decided he was going to yell expletives all game.  Not only at the refs.  Not only at the Buckeyes.  But even at his own team.  Appears that at halftime while I was at the concession stands another Buckeyes fan got into an argument with him.  I think the Buckeyes fan must have won because he(the Marshall fan) ended up leaving less than midway thru the 3rd quarter.

...That the new Clipper Stadium (called Huntington Park) is really nice.  really.  I don't know about you but I actually like that the stadium was built with bricks.  Kinda gives it a nice retro look.

...That Cleveland Browns stadium is pretty cool as well.  I understand from my buddy, a fellow browns fan, that inside the stadium there is a museum dedicated to all the Browns' greats.  Well, when we were there we didn't really have time to visit the museum prior to the game, but I am sure I will go back there again next time I am making sure to arrive in Cleveland with enough time to check it out.  And who knows, maybe I'll get there early enough to swing by the rock  'n' roll hall of fame as well.

...That Columbus Clippers fans' still have their bells.  The first game I went to this summer, it appeared to me no one was ringing their bells. Then, the second game, down 8-0 in the seventh against Indianapolis (maybe to help ignite a rally, which never happened btw), came the call to ring your bells.  Kinda nice to know that even though the team has changed stadiums, at least some of the old traditions are being kept.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Brett Favre should

It seems like a bad drama flick that just won't end.  The lead actor won't fess up to his poor performance.  The director promises that the sequel will be better.  And even the media hype has reached ridiculous proportions.  But it's time for this saga to end.  Brett Favre should thank his teammates, coaches and fans, and call it a career.  Not once the season is over.  Not pending the results of the next MRI on his elbow, or whatever body part is ailing him at the time.  Not even when his Vikings are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  There is little more for Favre to accomplish, and the Favre sob story press conferences that ESPN shamelessly replays like a B movie on TNT have become so irritating to the general public they're almost like fingernails scratching against a chalkboard. Life goes on.  ESPN will still draw ratings post Favre.  The NFL will still be able to sell tickets, even in Green Bay, where a legend not named Favre is still etched on the league championship trophy, and in Minnesota.  And Brett Favre will be able to get on with his life, and perhaps work on repairing the damage to his family life the scandal with Jenn Sterger has done.  And, most importantly, those people who are not really fans of Favre can turn on Sportscenter without having to watch an entire hour devoted to him.  Even as I write this post, it makes me sick to think I am contributing to the whole debacle that is Brett Favre.  But this is the last time I write about the man, and hopefully last Sunday was the last game he played.  Ever.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Anchors Aweigh! United States Naval Academy Torpedoes Notre Dame

There used to be a time when it was a given that whenever the midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy got on the football field with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the end result was a Notre Dame victory. For 43 straight years(dating back to when Roger Staubach played for the Mids, the former heisman trophy winner and Dallas Cowboy hall of famer) Notre Dame owned this rivalry(if you could call it that). Many times it wasn't even close.  Yet, yesterday in New Meadowlands Stadium, these two teams met again for another epic battle.  And, when it was all said and done, the end result was another blowout.  However, if I told you beforehand that the final score would be 35-17 in favor of Navy you would have laughed.  That was the final score in a rivalry where the balance of power has shifted in favor of the Naval Academy, and has a once proud Notre Dame football program clearly reeling. The Navy offense sailed to more than 430 yards against the Irish D, fueled by the perfomances of its cruiser-qb Ricky Dobbs, who ran for three touchdowns and threw for another, and its destroyer, fullback Alexander Teich, who ran for over 200 yards and caught Dobbs only touchdown pass. Defensively, the Midshipmen never really allowed the Irish to get into the flow of things, harassing quarterback Dayne Crist all day, including a few sacks and a couple of interceptions.  While this lopsided loss by Notre Dame underlies just how far this storied program has fallen, it should also serve notice that the Navy football program, once considered division I football doormats, can no longer be taken lightly.  Because what other conclusion can one come to when they soundly beat a program that is supposed to beat them every year?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ohio State's loss underlies an unprepared Jim Tressel team

  The final score last Saturday evening in Madison, Wisconsin, was like an uppercut to the jaw for the thousands of Buckeye fans who actually made the trip to Camp Randall Stadium to watch the Ohio State University football team lose to the University of Wisconsin Badgers.  Even worse had to be the disappointment of the throngs of OSU fans watching the game on television in their homes, many of whom had declared that both head coach Jim Tressel and starting quarterback to be overrated once again.  Tressel has taken a lot of heat from the fans and media alike the last several years for what they term as his inability to win the big game.  Two consecutive national championship game losses followed by losses to the University of Southern California in back to back seasons is likely to earn any big name coach that reputation, not just Jim Tressel.  And the Buckeyes' victory in the Rose Bowl over Oregon this past January many of the doubters had thought Tressel had finally gotten that monkey off his back.  Yet the loss to Wisconsin has once again brought the boo birds back in full effect.  However, looking at this game objectively, did Ohio State lose to Wisconsin because they played Tresselball, or was it because for one of the very few times in Jim Tressel's career as head coach of OSU, his team was unprepared for its opponent?   Looking back at the gameplan Tressel had devised Saturday, and how Wisconsin reacted to that gameplan, it would certainly seem that way.
   Offensively it seemed that the Buckeyes were never really in sync.  Tressel could not really be chastized for going ultra conservative, as the Buckeyes went to the air early, albeit with limited success. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor had been making plays all season to this point with his arm, and Tressel believed against Wisconsin would be no different.  Yet it was only when Pryor tucked the ball under his arm and ran in the first half that Ohio State would gain any first downs, yet Tressel would still try to air it out.  Down 21-3 at halftime, Tressel knew he would have to find another way to beat Wisky, so he then went to the ground.  Ohio State would eventually cut the lead to 21-18, but a Terrelle Pryor interception late in the fourth quarter would seal the upset for the Badgers.  But for a brief moment it seemed that running Pryor would have been there all day had Tressel called it.  Kinda makes one wonder if Tressel held on too tightly to the offensive script because he felt he would have been blasted if he didn't.
  On the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State knew what was coming, yet they were unable to stop it.  Everyone, the Buckeyes' defense included,  knew the Badgers' bread and butter was their running game led by tailbacks John Clay and James White, nicknamed 'thunder and lightning.'  Yet the Buckeyes seemed unable to stop either one all day, sort of reminiscient of the nc game against Florida, when, inside the Buckeyes' 20, the defense knew Tim Tebow was going to run the ball out of the shotgun yet could not stop him.  Obviously Tressel has less to do with the defense, as defensive coordinator Jim Heacock runs that side of the ball, but one would think that after Wisconsin marched down the field on their second possession of the game (on mostly runs) to take a 14-0 lead, those two would have had a chat on what needed to be done to stop their running game.  Of course this may be why Tressel should step down as OC, but that might be a topic for another discussion.  At the end of the day, while all week long prior to the game Tressel said his team was unconcerned about its number one ranking, and more concerned about the Badgers, his team's lack of focus, especially on the defensive side, would indicate otherwise.
  This bellyaching about Tressel's shortcomings is nothing new.  What is alarming, however, is that it comes against an opponent that the Buckeyes should have beat.  Sure John Clay is an impressive athlete, but he did not have near the speed of a Beanie Wells, and Ohio State has shutdown much more prolific offenses in the past year(the aforementioned Rose Bowl vs Oregon comes to mind.)  And with all the weapons that the offense has at its disposal, it still seems Jim Tressel does not understand how to properly utilize his star quarterback.  Sure the only way Pryor is going to become a better quarterback is by passing the ball more, but sometimes in order to win one has to scrap the gameplan he wants for the one that will win.  But all is not lost.  Let all Buckeye fans hope that this once again serves as a wakeup call for the "Senator", and the Ohio State football team rolls its way into January like it did after a similar wakeup call last year against Purdue.